James, Stabenow accept two debates in Senate race

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her Republican opponent, John James, have made plans for two televised debates before November’s election, the first time Michigan voters will be able to watch a Senate debate in 10 years.

The candidates said Tuesday they had accepted debate invitations from Grand Valley State University’s WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids and the Detroit Economic Club. Details must still be worked out, including which TV station will partner with the economic club.

The debates, if finalized, were scheduled for Oct. 14 and Oct. 15.

James, a business executive and Iraq War veteran, said he agreed to four other debates after asking media outlets and organizations to partner. But the third-term senator seems unlikely to do more debates, saying WGVU and the economic club have a long history of hosting Senate debates reaching viewers statewide.

“Senator Stabenow looks forward to debating the important issues that matter most to Michigan families and Michigan communities,” her campaign manager, Jason Ellenburg, said in a statement.

James campaign manager Tori Sachs said Stabenow must “keep her word,” accusing her of “bailing out” of debates in 2012. That’s when Stabenow representatives pulled out of negotiations with Republican Pete Hoekstra’s camp over arrangements for two debates broadcast on public television — one before the economic club and the other at Grand Valley State University. The two sides blamed each other for the impasse.

In 2014, Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land also did not debate in their race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. The last debate in a Senate race in Michigan was between Levin and challenger Jack Hoogendyk in 2008.

“John James will continue to accept debates all over the state and expects a veterans-focused debate because Michigan veterans deserve it,” Sachs said in a statement. “Debbie Stabenow owes us accountability after 43 years in public office and nearly $4 million in taxpayer-funded paychecks, not DC-style parlor games.”

James will get a boost Wednesday when Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser in suburban Detroit. Stabenow tweeted Tuesday that James is “buddying up” to Pence despite Pence having opposed the government-backed bailout to keep General Motors and Chrysler afloat.

“Michigan needs a Senator who puts Michigan first, not Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” she said on Twitter.

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